By Aaron Kesel
The U.S. government has increased its physical and digital surveillance to now include a broad definition of “homegrown violent extremists” in the Department of Defense’s manual which isn’t clearly defined, Reuters reported.
The change actually happened last year, announced under the Obama administration but carries on to the Trump administration. This will allow some forms of monitoring of U.S. persons without a court-issued warrant, a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment is defined as:
“The Fourth Amendment originally enforced the notion that “each man’s home is his castle”, secure from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government. It protects against arbitrary arrests, and is the basis of the law regarding search warrants, stop-and-frisk, safety inspections, wiretaps, and other forms of surveillance, as well as being central to many other criminal law topics and to privacy law,” according to Cornell Law School.
The new manual permits the collection of information about Americans for counterintelligence purposes “when no specific connection to foreign terrorist(s) has been established,” according to training slides created last year by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI).
This raises particular legal concerns that the feds will use this mandate to skirt laws that protect citizens.
“The government’s authority to monitor people doesn’t depend on their beliefs, or what the government thinks they believe, but on specific evidence that gives sufficient reason to think a criminal offense is occurring or that the person is an agent of a foreign power,” Sarah St.Vincent said. “A secret determination that someone’s rights should be curtailed based on undisclosed criteria is incompatible with the rule of law. The government should explain what it’s doing as well as its legal basis for doing it.”
All this was made possible by executive order 12333, signed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and later modified by former President George W. Bush, which establishes how U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA are allowed to pursue foreign intelligence investigations. The order also allows surveillance of U.S. citizens in certain cases which are defined as a counter-intelligence operations.
Which again in itself is a very broad definition first published and defined in 1982, the U.S. government was required to demonstrate a target was working on behalf of the goals of a foreign power or terrorist group. With the Obama era’s DHS definition of a terrorist group this is even more unclear.
Obama’s DHS didn’t hesitate to call those who believe in conspiracy theories potential right-wing terrorists, stating the following points might make someone a terrorist in a study by the University of Maryland, which was funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security.
- Americans who “are fiercely nationalistic, as opposed to universal and international in orientation”
- Americans considering themselves “anti-global”
- Americans who are “suspicious of centralized federal authority”
- Americans who are “reverent of individual liberty (especially their right to own guns and be free of taxes)”
- Americans exhibiting a belief in “conspiracy theories that involve grave threat to national sovereignty and/or personal liberty and a belief that one’s personal and/or national way of life is under attack”
Specifically listing Americans who love liberty as terrorists, noting that two subgroups of “right-wing extremism” were identified as “gun rights” and “tax protest,” according to PJ Media.
The slides were acquired by Human Rights Watch through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about the use of federal surveillance laws for countering drug or immigration purposes.
“What happens under 12333 takes place under a cloak of darkness,” Sarah St. Vincent, a surveillance researcher with Human Rights Watch told Reuters. “We have enormous programs potentially affecting people in the United States and abroad, and we would never know about these changes without the documents.”
Documents revealed by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden beginning in 2013 indicated that the government used/uses EO 12333 as the basis for collecting bulk communications surveillance programs overseas.
Meanwhile, as we reported last week, the acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke has called on Silicon Valley to remove extremist content that may cause “homegrown violent extremists.”
This comes amid calls for renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which the EFF is fighting against to declare Section 702 of the surveillance unconstitutional, while Congress is proposing another new bipartisan law called the USA Rights Act seeking to close a legal loophole to conduct warrantless surveillance on American citizens, Tech Crunch reported.
The USA Rights Act will permanently end the “about” collection. It also puts an end to the “backdoor searches” on Americans, and it will increase oversight for surveillance programs.
“The American people deserve better from their own government than to have their internet activity swept up in warrantless, unlimited searches that ignore the Fourth Amendment,” Sen. Rand Paul said. “Our bill institutes major reforms that prove we can still protect our country while respecting our Constitution and upholding fundamental civil liberties.”
Additionally, this news comes as a letter was just written to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking if the USA PATRIOT Act and Pipeline Safety Act contain enough provisions to criminalize actions against “energy infrastructure at the federal level” by environmentalist groups labeling them “terrorists” which could be seen as “homegrown violent extremists.”
So will this new mandate allow the U.S. government and the Trump administration to surveil activists using their First Amendment right to assemble and protest? This again leads us to ask the question, “how will Trump’s administration compare to his predecessor?” Only time will tell.
For further information, you can view all the newly released documents on the Human Rights Watch website.